Reuters: Morocco urged to probe beating of rights activists
Human Rights Watch said on Friday Morocco must investigate what it said was the beating of two leading human rights activists in Western Sahara and expressed concern it could be part of mass rights abuses there. Reuters, 27 Dec 2007.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment on the U.S.-based group's accusation about the detention of the two activists, known as sympathizers of the independence movement Polisario Front in Western Sahara.
Morocco, which annexed the northwest African territory of 260,000 people after Spain's troops pulled out in 1975, has offered it autonomy but the Polisario Front movement is calling for a referendum with full independence as one option.
Human Rights Watch said police detained Dahha Rahmouni and Brahim Alansari, from two nongovernmental human rights organizations in El-Ayoun, on December 14 and beat them while in custody before releasing them without charge two days later.
El-Ayoun is the main town in the disputed Western Sahara.
The Moroccan government has repeatedly denied accusations by rights groups of mistreating independence activists.
But Human Rights Watch said: "The Moroccan authorities tightly restrict independent human rights activities in the contested Western Sahara region on the pretext that several rights organizations there violate Moroccan law by espousing independence for Western Sahara."
"Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the action is part of a broader attack on human rights monitoring by the authorities in the Western Sahara region," it said.
Two rounds of talks to resolve the dispute over the territory were held near New York in June and August, but a recent report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said each side had stuck to "rigid positions."
The two sides are due to meet for another round of talks early in January.
(Reporting by Lamine Ghanmi; Editing by Alison Williams)
Photo of Brahim Elansari above taken by Thomas Frantsvold.
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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